Love and a Packard

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010 – A love story: About a Gasoline Girl, Her Man, and Their 52′ Packard

Perched on the hood of a 52’ Packard a red-headed beauty holds a parasol and poses for pictures. People at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender seem paralyzed as they stood staring at the perfect paint job. A proud man stands tall talking to the passers-by.  Looking on that day you never would have known the Packard project began only one month prior and had a love story woven in. He built the car for her to profess his love.  Together they named the car Miss-Mae.

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The story of Miss-Mae is one of generosity, perseverance, and achievement. She had a dream of one day owning an old car and he made it a reality, while blowing her expectations right out of the water. That lucky little lady is me, Becky Sue Huff, and this is the story of when my dreams came true. If you would have asked me not too long ago if I would ever own a vintage car I would have responded, “Yes, someday, I hope.” Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be driving a car of this caliber this early in my lifetime.

It all began as merely day dreams filling my downtime at the office. My fella Matt and I would email links back and forth of cars we thought were cool. When Matt sent me pictures of the two-door hardtop Packard I fell in love. I wanted no other car and thought our mission was accomplished; we had narrowed down what kind of car I wanted him to build me… someday.

Next thing I knew we were on our way to Buena Park to meet Jason, who had a 1952 Packard Mayfair advertised on Craigslist. I assumed Matt just wanted me to have the opportunity to see the body style of my fantasy car in person. As the two of us roared around the cul-de-sac in Matt’s T-bucket and into Jason’s driveway, I began to get really excited.

I could see her peeking out from around the corner of the house. It looked as if she had sat there a while, practically becoming a part of the landscaping. It was nearly dark now so we had to use flash lights to take a peek. From what we could see she was dirty, neglected, the interior was shot, and the white walls were cracked from sitting out in the sun too long. The body required quite a bit of rust repair, but under the hood was the original Packard Thunderbolt flathead straight eight!

When I pressed the pedal, she started right up and Matt and I were in love all over again!  We haggled pricing a little while, for what I did not know.  Two-thousand or ten-thousand, it didn’t matter. As a college student, I didn’t have any money saved up to  purchase this car. Matt told the gentleman that we would be calling him in a couple of days. As we drove away I had this guilty gut wrenching pain for leaving her behind.  It was almost as if I had just seen a wounded creature and wanted to take it home and nurse it back to health. I was both excited and saddened at the same time.

I had seemed to forget that my Matt is a man of action and if I wanted that car we were going to do everything in our power to get it. Then next day we met at his bank to talk to a lender about taking out a loan. Even after the banks refused to give a maxed-out college girl anymore money, Matt reassured me that he’d find a way. Before I knew it, we were on our way back to Buena Park with an envelope full of cash, grinning from ear to ear. Matt’s generosity made my dream a reality. When we approached the house this time the Packard greeted us from the driveway, her big chrome grill grinning right back at us. It was dusk. There was just enough light left to snap a few pictures with me and my new baby.

“Will it make it to Fullerton?“ I asked the previous owner.
“It should. I’m not sure,” he replied. “I have never driven it that far.”
What a shame, I thought to myself. Poor old neglected girl . We’ll nurse her back to health. I was hoping she wasn’t in too bad of shape because we had only  35 days to get her road-trip-ready.

It was March 6th 2008 and Matt and I intended on fixing up my car for the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender and car show on April 10th 2008. Matt, being the optimist that he is, had already registered the Model-T and the Packard in the car show. We had our work cut out for us, so we had better get a move on! I filled up my new car with gas at the 76 station and made my way down the road.  My Packard and I put putted along slow and steady.  We made it the short distance to Fullerton in no time at all – without any problems.

Upon reaching Matt’s Hot Rod shop, we were able to scope the car out better.  After taking a closer look we discovered that the radiator appeared to have been  re-cored. The fuel pump looked new, and we saw new spark plugs and wires. It appeared as if even the oil had recently been changed.  Someone had started to give her some love before they laid her to rest on the side of that house!

Since it was about supper time I figured Sonic Burger would be an appropriate place to go in my new ride.  I loaded her up with a bunch of friends and cruised her over to the car hop. This was the first of many memorable moments with my new car. It was at this time that I began to think of names for my new Packard Mayfair…Maybeline, Mae, or Priscilla, or Patsy, perhaps Patsy Mae. Matt and I both decided on Miss Mae. Not only because she is a Mayfair, but also because we were certain that Hollywood starlets like Mae West most likely drove one of these classy cars in her day.

I had been dreaming about this car every night since I’d laid eyes on her, furthermore,  I had been dreaming about a car like this for ten years. That night as I laid my head on my pillow I didn’t have the same old dream of one day having my own vintage car – rather my dreams were filled with all the work that needed to be done tomorrow, the next day and the day after that… until we reached Las Vegas!

The next day I had to leave my new baby behind and go to work, where I was pretty much useless because I could not get my new obsession out of my mind. Matthew spent a good part of the day locating and ordering parts that we anticipated needing. When the work whistle blew I raced home (as quickly as the Friday evening commuter traffic would take me) to work on the Packard.

Arriving at the shop, we raised the car onto the lift and were able to get a closer look at what exactly we had gotten ourselves into.  When we examined her underside we noticed the bolts on the oil pan were clean, the gasket on the oil pan looked new, she had new motor mounts, and most of the engine compartments looked to have been refinished! The transmission was clean as well, equipped with new gaskets and quite possibly recently rebuilt. Inside the trunk we found a tweaked connecting rod which led us to believe that the motor may had been recently rebuilt.

Next, we removed the wheels and inspected the drum brakes and suspension. The first thing we noticed were clean lug nuts. When we removed the dust cap we saw fresh bearing grease. We removed the spindle nut and started to slide the drum off of the spindle and noticed that somebody had installed new tapered needle bearings. After pulling the drum all the way off we exposed all new break hardware, new shoes and wheel cylinders.  There were even new brake hoses all around the car! It felt like Christmas!

Excited about our find, we went and looked at the master cylinder. After knocking the cob webs off, we noticed that it appeared as if that too had been recently rebuilt! While inspecting the rear brakes we saw that the gas tank had a new tag on it, which is a sign that the gas tank had to have been recently restored too. This all meant we could now concentrate more time and money into aesthetics! It was a great first day of the build project. It appeared as if we were given a head start and would be able to save a lot of time and money, and focus more energy on the exterior beautification for Miss Mae.

By Day Three, Matt had painted the wheels to match my new Coker L 78 15 gansta’ whites. I cleaned the original Packard sombrero hubcaps off in my kitchen sink.  The following day Matt mounted my brand new white walls on the pale pink wheels and we added my freshly polished rims. I knew we needed to send the seats out for upholstery ASAP so after disconnecting the hydraulic lines we made quick work of removing the front seat and side panels. The back seat was to be removed the next day. Though the original seats were tattered and worn, I knew I wanted to keep the same two-toned tuck and roll design. For the sake of time and budget, we chose a quick and cheap neighboring shop to put in a temporary upholstery.

On the fifth day of the build Matt and I mixed up the paint that would adorn Miss Mae’s sexy body. I mixed up the cream color I wanted for the roof  using a white base and adding slight amounts of House of Kolor Pagan Gold until I achieving a color resembling French Vanilla ice cream.  A fine, ice pearl metal flake would be added over the top of that. For the rest of the body, Matthew created a custom candy color that matched my hair!  The result was a rich, deep red with hints of orange undertones. After the paint colors were set, I took them with me to the upholstery shop and picked the material for my interior. When I was finished with that I began grinding the rust off of the floor panel and roof.

On Day Six Matt surprised me with new stereo equipment! I got a new CD player with an external port to connect my ipod, two 5x7s for the door, a pair of 8X9s for the rear, and a subwoofer to go in the trunk! I could not wait to rock my tunes all the way to Vegas! Then with the help of one of my gal pals, I was able to finish grinding off the rust on the roof and floor . She and I then painted the roof with white Rustoleum primer. Next, I made patch panels for the rusted out spots on the floor board and tack welded them in.  After finishing that, Matt sprayed Raptor bed-liner all over the floor to protect it from further  rust and insulate.  We then sprayed the under carriage with a sound dampening material. Matt  began cutting away some of the rusty rocker panels to prep it for the body work.

Not every day was as productive as I had liked. On Day Eight I wasn’t feeling so well, so stayed home and just cleaned the original sun visors in my kitchen sink. While I was at home, Matt lowered the car by C-notching the frame and replaced the shocks. The seats also got sent to the upholsterer.  Due to our passion, perseverance, and help from friends we were able to complete ALL of this after owning the Packard for only eight days!

With only one week in we were a quarter of the way to our deadline! The following three weeks were well choreographed chaos between at least seven helpers in different times. A numerous amount of things were completed during the day while I was at work. All of my free time was best spent wrenching rather than writing, so the day-to-day documentation ceased.

A lot of rust repair needed to be done without a lot of time to do it. The time crunch had no effect on Matt’s expertise. He cut, shaped, and welded new metal onto the car perfectly. He was able to flawlessly fabricate an entirely new gravel shield. He bent the metal for and welded into place new rocker panels. He welded in replacements for the rusted out corners of the roof. In addition to all of this, he even took the time to move the gas nozzle into the trunk to form seamless quarter panels. Matt is not only an amazing boyfriend but he is a genius metal worker!

After the metal work was finished he and a couple of buddies who’d gone to WyoTech together, put a skim coat of bondo on the car and prepped Miss Mae for paint. From start to finish, the paint and body work took one week – and this was not a single-stage process!  The Packard has multiple layers of kandy custom paint blended to match my hair color (or at least my hair color at the time!)

By this time, the seats were already back from the upholsterer so we covered them up and went  onto sanding body parts. Then came the reassembly. Luckily, I had labeled and organized all the parts and bolts, so this helped speed things along.  I cleaned up all the trim pieces as best I could with cutting-polish and steel wool.  With everything bolted on except the bottom portion of the bumper, Matt took Miss Mae out for her first test drive since the day we’d gotten her.  It had been a long hard month of work, so we decided to drive her a couple of blocks to Norms for a bite to eat.

Next, with only hours to spare before we needed to leave for the car show in Las Vegas, we ran into some type of fuel delivery problem. The car wouldn’t make it down the road to the restaurant without appearing to run out of gas! With no time to spare, Matt & I chose to jack her up and change all of the fuel lines right there in the parking lot of the Toyota dealership we were stranded at!

Finishing that task and getting just a couple hours of sleep, the two of us were eager to begin our 450 mile road test!  We decided to leave the Model-T at home and ride together in the Packard. During our travels, we experienced a few minor vapor locking incidents so Matt chose to put on an electric fuel pump. Other than these minor issues, we made it to Vegas in time for the car show! As we were attempting to make our journey back to Anaheim, we were still having fuel delivery problems. So like two thieves in the night, Matt and I dropped the fuel tank in the Nevada desert and emptied it of its gasoline. To our surprise, we found a little pebble of some type of solidified white substance.  Sugar in our gas tank put there by a jealous previous business partner of Matt’s? It very well could have been. But we didn’t let someone else’s negativity slow US down…we’d gotten Mae, restored her, and made it to Vegas and back – all within about a months time! Like I said, this is a story of generosity, perseverance, and achievement, but most of all love! That’s right, a story about a couple’s love for each other and s sharrd love for classic cars.

I’ve always been an automotive entusiast, but it wasn’t until I owned a vehicle of my own and got in there and worked on it that I truely became a car gal! I owe that pleasure to Matthew, my love. I’m the Gasoline Girl that I am today because he shared his generosity, passion, perseverance, and car knowledge with me. He and Miss Mae continue to inspire me everyday and I am so lucky to have them both in my life! Any time I feel like something is unobtainable I just look at that photo of me perched on the Packard!

– Becky Sue Huff

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